Review
This category contains 44 posts

Disordered Eating and Athletic Performance: Where’s the Line?

If a person severely restricts his diet and exercises for hours each day, he has an eating disorder. If another does exactly the same but it is because she wants to make the lightweight rowing team (which has an upper weight limit), she’s a committed athlete. When the two overlap, and an athlete presents with eating disorder symptoms, how do we distinguish between the demands of the sport and the illness?

I’ve been interested in the distinctions we make between disordered and non-disordered eating and exercise behaviours for a while now. Recently, when I was browsing through articles, I came across a literature review by Werner et al. (2013) (open access) of studies examining weight-control and disordered eating behaviours in young athletes.

The authors start by noting the sheer lack of research that has actually been done in this area. This is worrying: typical onset of eating disorders is during adolescence, and research indicates that athletes are more likely to develop these disorders, leaving young athletes in what appears to be a high-risk position.

WHICH ATHLETES?

Werner et al. searched …

In a Relationship and It’s Complicated: Eating Disorders in Intimate Relationships

What would you do if your partner started restricting caloric intake or bingeing and purging? Would you know how to approach your partner, how to offer support? And what about your own mental health?

Coping with an eating disorder in the context of any relationship can be tricky. There is a growing body of literature that addresses ways to bolster support for caregivers. While this is encouraging, a number of these studies explore the experiences of “caregivers” as a generic category encompassing parents, spouses, and other relatives. Few studies focus on the experiences of spouses and significant others in particular.

Dick, Renes, Morotti & Strange (2013) looked at literature exploring eating disorders in the couple context in an effort to devise recommendations for clinicians working with couples. For their review, the authors honed in on the experiences of heterosexual couples where the female partner was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

I suspect that these decisions were largely pragmatic: it would be more difficult to compare across studies highlighting the experiences of a more diverse sample. Nonetheless, …

Is Eating Disorder Prevention Possible?

How did I ever find things to write about before social media? Recently, someone on Tumblr asked whether eating disorder prevention and awareness efforts do more harm than good. In other words, can attempting to prevent eating disorders actually contribute to their development? Good question, I thought. I’ve often wondered about this myself, especially in light of some emerging studies suggesting that “healthy eating” campaigns may actually contribute to unhealthy (restrictive) behaviours around food in school children. So off I went to scour the literature. I came up with a number of hits, but surprisingly few from the past few years. With this recent silence in mind, I will look specifically at a meta-analysis by Stice, Shaw & Marti published in 2007 that highlights some of the characteristics of effective prevention programs and comment on some of the potential pitfalls of prevention.

PREVENTION

As a bit of a primer prevention efforts are generally divided into 3 types: 

  • Primary prevention includes efforts to prevent the disorder/disease/condition from occurring in the first place; essentially, it looks to intervene by removing risk factors

The Art of Therapy: Using of Arts-Based Therapies in Eating Disorder Treatment

Arts-based therapies are often used to supplement more “traditional” eating disorder treatment protocols in various different settings, ranging from individual therapy to inpatient units. However, as Frisch, Franko & Herzog (2006) note, no published research provides empirical support for the use of arts-based therapies for eating disorder treatment.

You might be wondering: if there is no empirical support, why are clinicians still using these therapeutic practices? You might also be wondering why I’ve chosen to dissect an article from 2006.

I’ll address the first question in this post (teaser: it’s really hard to say!). As for my delving back into the depths of academia, there is surprisingly little literature that touches on arts-based therapy, despite its continued use. This article provides an overview of why this might be, and where we can go from here.

WHAT IS ARTS-BASED THERAPY?

Arts therapy is an umbrella term used to refer to the “medicinal use of creative arts,” including dance and movement, drama, music, and visual arts. The premise of arts-based therapy is that engaging with the arts will facilitate clients’ …

Body Image: Is It a Useful Concept? (Maybe Not So Much)

I recently attended the International Society of Critical Health Psychology’s 8th Biennial Conference in Bradford, England. At the conference, I had the pleasure of attending many talks that challenged the way we approach health psychology. Luckily for me, there were several sessions that touched on issues of disordered eating and body image.

One such talk, a panel presentation with Hannah Frith, Sarah Riley, Martine Robson and Peter Branney, challenged attendees to re-think the way we approach body image. When I returned home, I immediately downloaded an article by Kate Gleeson and Hannah Frith (2006) that discusses this same idea and essentially begs the question: Is the concept of “body image,” as it is currently articulated, actually useful?

This might come off as a controversial question; after all, body image is central to many studies (and treatment programs) related to eating disorders. We’re told repeatedly that by improving our body image, we can achieve peace with food, with ourselves, with exercise, and with others. Good body image is upheld as the panacea of recovery and …

Excessive, Obsessive, Compulsive? The Links Between OCD, OCPD and Excessive Exercise in Anorexia Nervosa

Excessive exercise played a big role in my eating disorder and, predictably, I am drawn to studies that look at the role excessive exercise plays in eating disorder symptomatology, course and outcome. This topic has captured the interest of many eating disorder researchers, with studies revealing that up to 80% of individuals with anorexia nervosa may exercise excessively (Davis et al., 1997), though others suggest more modest statistics, around 39% (Shroff et al., 2006; Tetyana wrote a post about this article here).

Scholars have also noted the potentially obsessive and compulsive nature of exercise among some individuals with eating disorders and have made the natural transition toward examining whether links exist between excessive exercise and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and/or obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) traits (If you are confused about the difference between OCD and OCPD, click here). Young, Rhode, Touyz & Hay (2013) conducted a rigorous systematic review to synthesize and draw conclusions from the results of such studies.

The authors aimed to clarify the links between both OCPD traits and OCD …

The Enigmatic Persistence of Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa was first described in the medical literature in 1689 by Richard Morton. It has been over 300 years since then and AN continues to be one of the deadliest psychiatric disorders. If not treated early, it runs the risk of becoming deeply entrenched and highly resistant to treatment.

Moreover, established treatments for related disorders like bulimia nervosa and depression, such as cognitive behavioural therapy and antidepressants, are rather ineffective in treating anorexia nervosa. Finally, even if significant physical and mental improvements are achieved in treatment, relapse rates for older individuals (even those in their 20s) remain high.

What makes anorexia nervosa so persistent and so hard to treat in individuals who develop it, particularly if it is not treated soon after onset? Why is recovery so hard?

In this paper, B. Timothy Walsh outlines a model based on cognitive neuroscience that attempts to answer these questions:

DIETING AS A HABIT

I’ve often said that restricting to me feels like the “default state”: without continual conscious effort to consume more food, I can easily slip into restriction almost …

Beyond Simple Solutions: The Need for Complex Ideas in Anorexia Nervosa

I often hesitate to make broad, sweeping claims about the nature, cause, and experience of eating disorders and disordered eating. However, if there is one thing I feel absolutely certain saying about these disorders, it is that they are incredibly complex and multifaceted with no “one-size fits all” solution. So, I was quite excited when I came across a recent article by Michael Strober and Craig Johnson (2012) that explores the complexity of eating disorders and their treatment. Both authors have significant clinical experience treating eating disorders.

This article uses cases studies, literature, and the authors’ collective clinical experience to respond to some of the key controversies surrounding anorexia and its treatment. Among the major controversies that have come to light of late, they focus on two:

  1. Genetic/biological causation (Biologically-based mental illness – BBMI)
  2. Family-based treatment (FBT) as the best form of treatment for adolescents

The authors’ exploration of these topics supports an overall argument: focusing on singular explanations and solutions for anorexia, particularly through the vehement defense of any particular approach, obscures the complexity of the disorder, as well …

Is Anorexia Nervosa a Subtype of Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Is anorexia nervosa a subtype of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)? Well, probably not, but don’t click the close button just yet. In this post, I’ll explore the relationship between anorexia nervosa and BDD, and discuss how understanding this relationship might help us develop better treatments for both disorders. 

Despite the fact that there are obvious similarities between the disorders, studies exploring the relationship between BDD and AN are few and far between. In a recent paper, published in the Clinical Psychology Review, Andrea Hartmann and colleagues summarized the current state of knowledge in the field. The review compared clinical, personality, demographic, and treatment outcome features of AN and BDD. I’ll summarize the key points of the paper in this post.

(I will be focusing on the relationship between AN and BDD, as opposed to EDs and BDD, because that’s the scope of the review article.)

First, what is body dysmorphic disorder?

Approximately 1/3 of individuals do NOT recognize that the beliefs about their appearance are due to a mental disorder and 2/3 believe that other people are laughing/staring …

Pills for Bites: The Alarming Link between Drug Abuse and Eating Disorders

The association between drug abuse and eating disorders (EDs) is not new. Since the 1970s, doctors have reported higher incidents of self-medication and drug abuse in a subset of eating disorder patients. Drugs, in this context, cover everything from laxatives and diet pills, to alcohol and street drugs.

The association between drug use and EDs is not shocking; however, the extent of the problem is likely overlooked.

In a report detailing the most comprehensive review on the topic, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse concluded: “Individuals with eating disorders are up to five times likelier to abuse alcohol or illicit drugs and those who abuses alcohol or illicit drugs are up to 11 times likelier to have eating disorders.”

The report is freely available online and I highly recommend reading the entire document.

Here are some of the MAIN FINDINGS:

EDs and substance abuse share many risk factors and this may explain the high rate of co-occurrence. Risk factors include:

  • Biological factors: Both disorders use on the same reward and motivational systems in the brain, precipitating

Follow ScienceofEDs

Ajax spinner

TIP JAR

If you enjoy the content on the Science of Eating Disorders blog, please considering supporting the website with a recurring monthly donation or with a single donation of your choice. (Donations are not tax-deductible.)

If you can't spare any change, that's okay too. You can always tweet, or share on Facebook.
Thanks!

Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: